“Mum, it’s beautiful!” Tom said, as we approached our new house.
And it was.
Finally: south of the city, within budget and best of all, a garden. One of my pet hates is when letting agents market two-up-two-downs in Chorlton as cottages (£850 a month, anyone?) but this did actually feel like a cottage. And it wasn’t in Chorlton, but I’d probably end up getting eco ennui if I lived there anyway.
“I want it,” I said, as we stepped through the door into a room full of sunlight.
Ten minutes later, the fees were in the agency’s bank account, the lady at the office was congratulating me and Tom was choosing his bedroom. Never mind the people who arrived to look at it as we were leaving: it was ours.
Except it wasn’t.
Three days later, I received a call from the agency:
“The landlady has decided she doesn’t want children in there.”
“I’ve only got one child.”
“I know, we’ve tried but she just says no children.”
“He’s nearly seven. What does she think he’s going to do – draw on the walls?”
“Sorry. You haven’t handed in your notice on your current house, have you?”
“No,” I’d been too busy, thank goodness, “Why is this happening?”
“Sorry. She just wants two working professionals.”
We’d already been through this: I contacted the agency initially to ask if I could have a cat in there – and they were more interested in what humans would be moving in. After I told them it would just be me and my son, they said that sorry, the landlady would only accept two working professionals. I pleaded with the agent, offering a guarantor, references and pay slips and suddenly, they were ‘pleased to tell me’ the landlady would let us look around.
When the news had sunk in, I called the agency back to sort out the refund of the fees. This time, I got a man:
“I just don’t understand why she let us look around then changed her mind.”
“Yeah it’s not discrimination or anything like that,” he said, before I’d even mentioned the word, “All it is is that she’s got some concerns about the safety of the property and outside the property that make it unsuitable for a child.”
“But she knew I had a child. What concerns?”
“Obviously, these are just some concerns she has.”
“What sort of concerns?” Holes in the roof? Local doggers? A poltergeist?
“Obviously,” (no, it’s not obvious) “these are just some concerns she has. It’s for her own conscience, really.”
I checked the website when I got home and the house had gone. Someone had got it, just not us.
Luckily, Tom’s easy-going. “She sounds nasty, Mum. It’s a good job we didn’t move into her house anyway.”
I suspect the landlady hadn’t decided that she didn’t want a child in her property; she had decided that she didn’t want a single mother in her property.
I’d forgotten all this: when Tom was a toddler, I thought I’d be stuck in Mum’s house forever. Following one viewing, I called a landlady to tell her I was interested and she said “Right. Well, you don’t choose us, we choose you. So we’ll let you know if you’ve been successful.” (She never called back.)
On another occasion, a landlord of a ‘student flat suitable for families’, advertised through the university laughed at me: “How can you be studying if you have a baby? Sorry, this flat is not for you.”
This is not the 1950s: single parents are not excluded like they used to be, but the discrimination is still there, subtle. Single parents cannot just find their perfect home, pay the deposit and move in – mysterious force fields seem to see to that. For those who claim Housing Benefit, things are even harder. Moving house wasn’t something we desperately needed to do, but for many it is. You’re not as susceptible to the prejudice when you’re lucky enough to have an education and a job – but neither are you completely immune.
If you’re my landlord and you’re reading this (unlikely, but you have just offered to have the whole house professionally painted) we’re not going anywhere. Turns out getting Tom into a new school would have been incredibly difficult – and he’s happy where he is. And we’re very lucky to have a landlord who trusts us, never comes round, sends a repair man the second anything goes wrong and lets us have a cat. Thanks. I’ll keep making this our home and paying my rent on time, every month, just like I have been doing for the past five years.